Mack: That’s a good point. It’s really about spacing. If you’re trying to drop 10 pieces of mail, then you have to figure out at what interval you have to mail those pieces. I think that’s something we’re going to have to figure out campaign by campaign.
Hoppey: It all comes back to planning and being able to adjust. Whether it’s the campaign or the consultant, we’ll have to be more nimble.
Mitchell: The one thing I would add is that this also reduces the margin of error. We have production schedules, as I’m sure you guys do. You will now have to hit your production deadlines every single time. If you’re dropping two mail pieces a week and you miss a day for some reason, that’s not the biggest deal if you still have six day delivery. But when the delivery days are reduced at all, it’s critical that we mitigate any sort of delay.
C&E: So is this just a matter of pushing campaigns to plan more comprehensively?
Hoppey: Well, I think campaigns do that. My experience with good campaigns is that you start out with a communications plan that’s integrated with everything else— he field plan, the paid media, the direct voter contact. What it really means is that we have to just be a little more vigilent when it comes to those plans. We need to either stick to them better or be more agile in moving around them. But smart campaigns do plan. And the better the plan, the more likely the campaign is to win.
Mack: I think the biggest part of this equation going forward is capacity. You need design capacity, you need production capacity and now you need the capacity to ensure the mail gets in on time. There is something alluring about hiring a really small firm, or a one- or two-person firm. I understand that. On the other hand, you have to make sure the firm you hire has the capacity to deal with all of these different issues. It’s just a little bit of an interesting world right now and I think it will be very interesting to see how that plays out over this cycle.
C&E: There are so many new firms starting across the industry—direct mail and otherwise. What do you make of that landscape?
Mitchell: I’m not sure if this is true on the Democratic side of things, but on the Republican side it seems as though the operatives coming up through the ranks are focused on online media. There’s this narrative out there—that’s not entirely true— that says two or three or four cycles from now direct mail is going to be dead. I think because of that a lot of young people are focused on building online firms. As a result, there’s intense competition and intense pressure on margins. Quite frankly, that’s accruing to our benefit.
Hoppey: More power to ‘em from my perspective. I think we see a shift every cycle. There are people who leave the committees or people who leave other firms to start their own. What happens over the course of time is just a natural selection. Firms either merge, or people decide to leave to join more established firms. It’s always interesting to see the sort of new firms that crop up each and every year.
Mitchell: But is it similar on the Democratic side? Are people starting new mail companies on your side of the aisle?
Hoppey: Yes. A lot of folks are.
Mack: I think it’s highly competitive out there on the direct mail side. And because of that you have to stay hungry and you have to fight for every piece of business. That goes for business that you’ve had for years, too. You just have to accept that and take it on. If you get lazy—at least on the Democratic side—with your marketing right now you will get eaten alive by the smaller, up-and-coming firms.
Hoppey: I completely agree and I think it makes us better at our jobs. We have to stay on the edge and be constantly thinking about how to help our existing and recurring clients, because those are the marquee clients that every firm wants. It’s our responsiblitlity to be in front of them. What I find is that the more direct mail firms out there, the more our clients are expecting from us. They really expect us to be a much more involved member of the team in certain cases.
Mack: After the Obama campaign, there were 15 or 20 people who were trying to just do online on the Democratic side. Some of them are still doing it, some of them are doing other things and some of them have actually been rehired by the Obama campaign. So I do think there was a big influx of online consultants in 2008, but it has tapered off a bit for us.
C&E: How about the folks who do say, “Direct mail is dead.” Why are they wrong?
Mack: For the last six or seven years, at least on the Democratic side, there has been a tremendous amount of testing done on direct mail. I believe that when it started, the intent was to prove that direct mail didn’t work any longer. What ended up happening was that mail worked in every single one of these tests. It actually worked as well or better than every other medium. So on the Democratic side, all of these modelers and testers have now come to the conclusion that mail does work. In part, that’s because we have less competition rather than more. You still only have one mailbox as opposed to two TVs and 500 channels. Voters may spend less time with direct mail at the end of the day, but the time they do spend with it has more of an impact.
Mitchell: A few months ago our business received a direct mail solicitation from Google. They were trying to get us to advertise using adwords. Personally, I think that pretty much sums it up. If Google thinks a good way to attract customers and get people’s attention is through direct mail, then surely it’s still the case for political campaigns.